Vincent Serpico has been actively involved in software development for over 15 years. He began his career as a developer where he led several teams building large-scale applications, including two task management systems. Mr. Serpico moved into executive management where he served as Vice President in several companies before starting SerpicoDEV, a near-shore services company. While at SerpicoDEV, Mr. Serpico employed a team of designers, developers, testers, and project managers of 25 employees, 100 percent virtual. He learned how to manage distributed teams to effectively delivery quality software at a fraction of the cost.
But Serpico soon realized that clients were still having trouble keeping up with the progress and status of their projects. This haphazard and redundant method was inefficient, with managers spending their time communicating with developers and creating project reports for clients. Serpico had a vision of a better way for teams to communicate and collaborate, and, after scouring the Web and still not finding a system with the functionality he envisioned, he decided to build his own solution.
Honing his skills, Mr. Serpico created a software platform called Spotlight to help project manager’s better manage distributed teams. Spotlight helps project managers around the world more effectively work with distributed work forces. Today, Mr. Serpico shares his vast knowledge of managing distributed teams through seminars, workshops and private consulting.
As not only the developer, but also an end user, Serpico can attest to the effectiveness of the Spotlight system:
“Since I’ve been using Spotlight at my services company, I’ve seen a huge improvement in productivity. I’ve received comments from my clients such as, ‘My projects are not a black box anymore,’ and ‘I feel like I have complete control. My project managers are spending one‑fifth of their time managing and letting Spotlight do the rest.’ ”
Spotlight was built out of a burning necessity. It began a few years ago, when Spotlight CEO Vincent Serpico launched a near‑shore software‑development services company. The company employs and works with a team of designers, developers, testers, and project managers of 25 employees, 100 percent virtual.
From the outset, the company utilized the standard means of communications – email, Skype, and other project‑management tools, but Serpico soon realized that clients were still having trouble keeping up with the progress and status of their projects. This haphazard and redundant method was inefficient, with managers spending their time communicating with developers and creating project reports for clients. Serpico had a vision of a solution – a better way for teams to communicate and collaborate, and allowing more transparency for clients in their projects.
After scouring the Web and still not finding a system with the functionality he envisioned, Serpico decided to build his own solution. Starting the process by determining the best way for remotely dispersed groups to communicate in real time, he found the answer in social networks – Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Using social media sites as a model, Serpico built a social‑network front end, then attached it to an agile task‑management back end. Spotlight was born.
Vincent Serpico: Hi. My name is Vincent Serpico, and I am founder and CEO of Spotlight Software. Let me tell you about an opportunity that also causes a problem.
Right now, you can go online and hire a virtual software developer in about five minutes. That’s right. There are lots of online freelance marketplaces like Elance and oDesk where you can go online and hire a really good virtual software developer.
It gets better. Most of these developers live in countries whose cost of living is lower than yours.
Sounds great, so what’s the problem? The problem is that software development projects staffed by virtual software developers have a success rate of less than 50 percent. This is terrible. It’s actually quite unacceptable.
I’ve been developing software for over 15 years with the help of virtual software developers, and my success rate is over 95 percent. Why do I have such a high success rate? It’s not because I’m some kind of genius or something, it’s because I follow a methodical process that’s rooted in communications and accountability.
I want everyone to enjoy the same success that I enjoy managing virtual software development projects, so I baked my process into my new software offering, “Spotlight”. Spotlight is a web and mobile‑enabled application to help you manage and ensure the quality of your virtual projects.
You can see who’s online now and who’s going to be online later. You can see what everybody is working on, as well as their progress and their efficiency. You get daily progress reports, and you can generate HR reports against invoices.
On the go? No problem. Spotlight goes mobile. See what everybody is working on in real time all day long on iPhone and Android.
Gone are the days where your software development project was a black box. Welcome the days where you have clear visibility and are in total control of your project.
This is what I want you to do. Try Spotlight free for 30 days. Then email me personally with your success story. I know you’re going to love Spotlight.
First Yahoo, then Best Buy and now HP. As some of the more recognizable brands in the tech industry have banned employees from working at home, business owners may be questioning their flexible work policies. But one size does not fit all and the work environment in your small business is probably drastically different from HP. Bottom line: don’t let this trend scare you off from the benefits of having a remote workforce.
“We now need to build a stronger culture of engagement and collaboration and the more employees we get into the office the better the company will be.” That’s a quote from an HP’s document that fell into the hands of AllThingsD on the decision. Do you agree with that statement?
Companies have proven over and over again that operating as a remote workforce can be very successful. Just take a look at this list from Scott Berkun; not only has Automattic made it successful, but so has Buffer, 37Signals, and Assembla, just to name a few. Anyone who has been part of a remote workforce knows that strong engagement and collaboration can indeed be achieved even while you are miles apart. It just takes the right type of people, processes, and remote collaboration tools. Maybe HP just doesn’t have that in place.
If you are a business that works as a remote workforce 100% of the time, like we do, don’t let this trend scare you. People are adapting more and more to working outside the office on mobile phones and tablets. Reeling them back into the office when you’ve traditionally had a flexible policy may end with an unhappy workforce.
So what are some perks of a remote workforce?
Here are 5 advantages for startups and small businesses hiring remote employees.
Cost Effective – Using websites like Elance, oDesk, and Freelancer, startups and small businesses can find remote employees at a much cheaper rate than hiring full-time. It alleviates the overhead cost of office space. Using this method of hiring a remote workforce saves you money and allows you to screen workers more diligently to see who might be right for a full-time position later.
Talent Pool – Online marketplaces like those mentioned above give you the opportunity to hire great talent from anywhere. No longer are you constrained to your local area when looking for new employees. With millions of freelancers available and the number growing quickly, the talent pool is very deep and you can be much pickier when hiring. Now you can hire exactly the type of remote workforce that fits your business goals.
Work Anytime, Anywhere – Startup and small business owners are on the go constantly. Hiring a remote workforce that operates entirely online allows you to keep in touch with your team from anywhere, any time, and on any device. Using a tool like Spotlight, you can instantly see when your employees are online and what they are working on.
Work/Life Balance – Employees love flexibility in their work schedules. New technology and collaboration tools allow virtual teams to be flexible by connecting from anywhere so you could stay up-to-date on a project while sitting on the beach with your family. Greater flexibility for employees leads to better work/life balance, which leads to a more productive workforce.
Improved Collaboration – This one is probably a bit surprising. Improved collaboration when you are thousands of miles apart? How can that be? New communication and collaboration technology today offer this opportunity. And it’s going to get better all the time. Siemens Enterprise Communications just rebranded to Unify, which is focused on unified communications for the anywhere workforce. Social collaboration tools like Spotlight make it so easy for your remote employees to see what everyone else is working on and when. If you have a question on a certain task of a project, it’s as simple as seeing who is online and asking. So yes, collaboration can improve – if your team is willing to use the technology available.
As a startup business owner who is already working with a remote workforce, don’t let this recent trend alter your strategy. With the right people and processes in place, it can be very economical and successful for your business. There are probably many other things going on in these larger companies to drive them towards the decision to bring everyone back into the office. But saying “the more people we get into the office, the better the company engagement and collaboration will be” isn’t an entirely true assessment.
What’s your opinion on HP joining Yahoo and Best Buy on the list of reducing the number of employees working remote? Right move or inability to see the bigger picture of the ‘future of work’?
“Developers are not commodities.” Software development projects are very unique. No two projects are the same and this also applies to developers. They all have different skills with expertise in different programming languages. Hiring a software project team is a process that requires thorough screening and many conversations to ensure you have the right people in place for your project.
Depending on the complexity of the project, it can often take months for a new developer to get familiar with the details, team, and process. So choosing wisely at the start of the project is imperative to prevent team member turnover and delays. That’s why it’s so important to know how to accurately locate developers, properly interview, and hire them. A process of looking outside your local area, communicating your goals (not ‘how’ the software should work), and short programming tests will help you narrow down the perfect software project team for your endeavor.
Consider Going Online
With the increase in innovative tools to work from anywhere, any time, and on any device, the opportunity to work with developers from across the globe is huge. There are several major advantages in going with a virtual software project team:
Hiring developers online allows you to expand you search beyond your local geographic area to a global market. This automatically increases the available talent to choose from by a massive amount.
Different areas have a lower cost of living. This means you may be able to attract developers with comparable experience level at a much lower rate.
Working from home with flexibility often makes the hired developers happier. Happier employees equal a more productive workforce as a whole.
Hiring a virtual software project team on a contract basis eliminates all the overhead cost of office space, equipment, and full-time employee benefits.
Several online marketplaces give you the ability to find quality software developers like Elance, oDesk, and Freelancer.
Communicate Your Goals
Now that you have found a potential candidate to have further conversations with, how you communicate the project goals becomes key. Don’t communicate the ‘how’ of the project, but describe ‘what’ you are trying to achieve. In other words, always communicate what you want done at the end of the project and not how you should get there.
Good software developers have a unique way of finding solutions to reach the project’s goals that you may have never thought of. For example, instead of saying, “I want an iOS application that will geo-trip locations using REST based web services that are stored in a MySQL database and after some processing, sends an SMS message”, you might say, “I want to create a mobile app for taxi drivers to pick up fares within 1 mile of their current location”. Communicating in this method will allow the developer to present a variety options to achieve this goal and unlock solutions you may have never considered.
Require a Programming Test
Now it’s time to see your potential developers in action. Have the candidates take a programming test. Look at the requirements of your software project and develop a mini test that emulates those requirements. You can leave a little room for ambiguity to see how the developer proceeds when requirements may not be so clear.
Having developers do a short test, especially when you can’t meet them face to face, helps you really get a look at their traits and characteristics. Not only does it give you a good overview of their programming ability, but also how they will work with you, your team, and the project.
Choosing the right software project team can often make or break a project. For startup and small businesses, this is especially important where the failure of a project can lead to the failure of the entire business. So choose wisely. The extra time it takes to thoroughly screen a candidate is a worthwhile trade off for a successful delivery.
What other tips do you have for hiring the right software team for your project? If you have dabbled in the online hiring space, share your experience!
At Spotlight, we are enthralled with the “future of work” concept and the idea of working from anywhere, at any time, on any device. It’s why we developed Spotlight for the new wave of distributed workforces, teams, and way of work. It’s rapidly growing so we decided to put together a list of all the websites supporting this wave. These aren’t single articles or blog posts, but entire websites dedicated to the future workplace.
The Future Workplace – Jacob Morgan and Chess Media Group helps companies think about the future of work and collaboration initiatives to take advantage of the shift.
Launching a startup will most likely require you to outsource part of the work at some point during the initial building phase. Lack of readily available resources and skills make this unavoidable, especially in software development and design. But there are tons of opportunities out there to find this type of talent – almost 30% of the entire freelance market is made up of development and design pros. Whether you need a team to build out the product in it’s entirety or just added manpower, outsourcing this type of work is going to be far cheaper than hiring a full-time employee.
While hiring a freelance or virtual software team can offer many benefits, new challenges arise in trying to manage and collaborate with your team across locations. Often times, lack of communication and accountability in these teams can increase the already high failure rate of projects. But there are some things you can do to ensure your virtual software team stays in sync and is accountable for their tasks. Spotlight CEO Vincent Serpico goes on to explain each one in more detail in the video below.
Daily “Virtual” Scrums – Since most project managers are used to gathering the whole team for a daily meeting, this same process can be achieved for the virtual software team. Let all team members share what they did yesterday and what they will work on today. It’s a quick way to get the team communicating first thing in the morning.
Regular Status Updates – One of the biggest concerns for a project manager leading a virtual software team is losing track of them. They can’t see them in the building, emails and phone calls are easy to ignore, and time zones make it difficult. By having team members communicate frequent status updates of their availability, what they are working on, and progress, the whole team can collaborate better.
Daily Progress Reports – These reports are simply the daily meeting on paper. Having team members submit this short, free form report at the end of the day keeps them accountable for their work and still communicating with their team. The project manager can then properly prepare for the next morning’s meeting, keeping the duration short and getting the developers back to work.
While there is more to successfully executing with a virtual software team depending on the project, these three tactics can be easily implemented and quickly improve the team’s efficiency. Our company uses them for all our projects and even has the process streamlined right into Spotlight.
What other tactics have worked for you in executing a project with a virtual software team? Drop us a comment and let us know.
By Seth Weedin, Director of Marketing at Spotlight Software
The conventional office as we know it is dying a slow death.
While times are changing, many businesses are still stuck in the past using the conventional office rules that were developed decades ago. Obviously the way we conduct business has evolved since then, so why hasn’t the way we actually work? One reason is because it’s the traditional way we know how. The old rules just get passed along as executives retire and their replacements work their way through the ranks of the company to take their place. The traditional work environment that has been the norm for so long just gets recycled over and over. Why does it keep getting recycled? Because a business can technically still be functional with the conventional office. It’s usually only when they see the future of workin action and the efficiencies it brings does it become clear there is a need to evolve.
The way we work is starting to rapidly change however with new innovation and the ability to work from anywhere, at any time, and on any device. People don’t necessarily need to come into an office at a central location anymore or really even need an office at all.
Take Vodafone for example. In the video below, Guy Laurence, now CEO of the company and former chief of Vodafone UK, explains why the conventional office is dead and how their office in the UK evolved with this trend. They still have a central location, but it’s more of an open campus for employees to engage with one another. The entire place is wifi enabled and there are no traditional desktop computers. You can find people hard at work on their laptops in the office coffee shop, in the garden outside of the office, or even in the stairwell of the building. They used over 7,000 hours of video conferencing in 2012 as a way to collaborate with other locations and even people right in their own office. The idea is to open the channels of engagement for employees and create a sense of community that is sometimes lacking in the conventional office layout of cubicles and walled workspace. They found a number of benefits with this new model including reduced cost, better productivity, higher commercial agility, more employee engagement, and less environment impact.
The conventional office and 9-5 workday just aren’t practical anymore. Employees need to be able to engage and collaborate with each other all the time and they want to be able to do it from their homes, coffee shops, and the airport, in addition to the same office. As Laurence states in the video, “at the end of the day it’s the task that matters, not where people sit.” Translate this into location and it does not matter where people are located or working from anymore, only that the task, project, or initiative gets achieved.
The transition to a more global workforce that can conduct business from any location in the world is only beginning. As it continues, businesses will need to have the ability to communicate and collaborate from anywhere and be able to do it efficiently.
How has your business embraced the ‘future of work’? Leave a comment and share your story.
In part 1 last week, Spotlight CEO discussed the benefits a business can see by using a distributed team model. Today, Vincent looks at the issues he ran into while running his nearshore software development company that ultimately led to the creation of Spotlight People & Project Manager.
“Where the HELL is Pablo?!?” Mickey was pissed. Pablo was hired as a full-time dedicated resource for Mickey’s company through my services company.
“Did he send you an email or something, Mickey”, I asked.
“Nope. And we need to deploy the database before tomorrow morning. I tried Skyping him, emailing him, and called his mobile.”
It was 3:30 in the afternoon. “OK, let me try to get in touch with him. I’m sure he’ll make up the hours and we’ll be fine. Pablo’s responsible.”
Pablo really is responsible, and gets his tasks done. He works more than 40 hours per week… but not the usual 9-5. As a remote contractor, he enjoys the benefits of working remotely, which include picking up his kids from school around 3:15 in the afternoon.
I reached Pablo a little after 4:00. “Pablo… I don’t mind if you take off to pick up your kids… but you have to let the client know.”
Pablo seemed panicked. “Vincent, I sent Mickey an email. Here let me forward it to you.”
The email was sent in the earlier part of the afternoon. And lo and behold, it cited that Pablo would be out from 3:00 – 4:15, and that he would deploy the database when he returned. Which is exactly what he did, and the deployment turned out to be a success.
However, we still have the issue of solid communications among distributed teams. Because while I wish this was an isolated instance, it actually happens a lot more than it should. And it wasn’t just my company, it’s an issue that plagues all distributed teams…whether they are an office that telecommutes, an enterprise team spread across a campus, or a company that hires contractors in Mexico, India and China. Distributed teams face the challenge of communication, collaboration and accountability.
We all know where this story’s going, so I’ll cut to the chase. I built Spotlight to enhance communication, collaboration and accountability among my crew of ~25 contractors spread all over Mexico and the United States, and to provide my clients with a way to peer into the daily operations of their project. In other words, Spotlight’s mission was to minimize the “Where the HELL is Pablo?!?” phone calls from my clients.
It worked. It worked much better than even I expected. That’s why I spun the product off as its own entity. And with the help of my partner, Dan Schulz, we took the product to even higher aspirations by adding a task-timing feature that blows the competition out of the water.
So… guess whom our most excited customers are today? That’s right… PM’s, scrum masters and other product owners that received similar “Where the HELL is Pablo?!?” calls when they ran distributed projects.
Family, pets, laundry, the doorbell…the list can go on and on. Working at home can present its fair share of distractions, if you let them. But there are several things you can do to remain productive while working at home. In fact, mastering the art of balancing your work/life can often make you MORE productive working at home.
Our company has been working entirely on a distributed basis for the last year now. All of our employees have their own way of being productive; whether it’s working at night, tucking away in a coffee shop, or taking breaks during the day. This type of flexibility allows us to find times that are most productive for us and thus, make the entire company operate more effectively.
Using a combination of feedback from some our colleagues working at home and our own experiences, here are 10 to-dos’ that will help you be more productive.
Establish Your Space
If you don’t have your own office space in the house, you need one. Plain and simple. Oftentimes, half the battle of working at home is not being able to get away from interruptions because of no place to go. Having your own office space (with a door) allows you to completely separate the two: you can go to work in the morning and leave in the evening just by walking in and out.
Plus, who doesn’t like to be able to set up their own office?
Not being in the same office sometimes results in those creeping thoughts of wondering if your counterparts are really working. Don’t let those thoughts even start to brew. Being very visible online and communicating frequently with whatever tools you choose lets everyone know you are working and available. We use Spotlight to do this. One look at the dashboard lets you know exactly who is online and what they are working on. Trust is a big part of working at home so always be available when you should be.
There are hundreds, if not thousands of tools out there to help you work productively at home. And a lot of them are free. Skype, Join.Me, Zoom, and Google Hangouts are just a few of the free tools you can use to stay in touch with your team. While there are tons of tools out there, being able to find those that are multi-functional and have many of these features streamlined will make it a whole lot easier to manage.
Freshen Up (Your Location)
While a home office is great, sometimes you just need a change of scenery. Take advantage of a local coffee shop or library for an afternoon. The new environment can help you focus and make your office feel fresh again when you get back. Another advantage of the coffee shop is opening the door to impromptu conversations that you wouldn’t get at home. There are always other business people working so you never know when a connection might be made.
The Pomorodo Technique is relatively new and is a way to manage your time effectively. Simply set a timer to 25 minutes, which is called a Pomodoro, and see how many it takes to finish a task. Using this information and following a series of steps (see the video on the website) allows you to set up accurate timetables of your tasks and other activities. It helps eliminate burnout, manage distractions, and create a better work/life balance.
Learning how to self-motivate can take you a long ways when working at home. Since you aren’t always in the presence of other co-workers that can provide this motivation, teaching yourself how to self-motivate can keep you inspired and focused. As an employer who is thinking about using a distributed workforce model, having training sessions from experienced coaches on how to self-motivate may make your employees even more productive.
Multi-tasking with several chores around the house can get you into trouble quickly. It’s very tempting to get a head start on the laundry, run those errands you have, or clean the house. But you may find that these small tasks take up more time than you think and pretty soon you are way behind in work. You may be best off setting aside a time for tasks like this and separating it from the workday.
Goals are important in any work setting, whether you are working at home or in an office setting. But sometimes these goals are harder to achieve while working alone at home. Set daily and weekly goals, then write them down and refer to them frequently. Having set goals or tasks to accomplish each day and week will keep you focused and create a sense of accomplishment when you start crossing them off your list.
Start With a Routine
Don’t fall into that rut of your alarm going off and the only thing you do is walk 10 steps to your office and start working in your pajamas. Develop a routine in the morning almost as if you are going into the office. For example, I wake up and go to the gym, come home and walk the dogs, then get ready for work like I’m actually going into the office. A routine gets you ready to take on the day no matter what pops up (including that impromptu video call from your boss).
Working at home can mean you may not get out of the house for a while. So make sure you create time when you can get out, whether it’s with your family or friends. Look for local Meetup or networking groups in your industry and attend the meetings as a way to make new connections and find business prospects.
Working at home is a much different environment than going into an office, especially if you’ve never done it before. Staying productive can be a challenge for some people at first but by following these tips (among many others), productivity can often be increased. That’s why Spotlight has operated as a distributed workforce for the last year; we’ve found our employees to be much more productive and motivated. Stop in at our next webinar to see exactly how we do it!
What other tips do you have for being productive working at home? What’s worked for you?
Spotlight CEO Vincent Serpico talks about his experience working with distributed teams and why he ultimately decided to make the entire company 100% distributed.
“No, no, no!” That was my response close to a decade ago when I was informed the company I was working for was going virtual. At the time I was a VP leading a development team of 15 when C-level management made the decision to jettison the office space in favor of a virtual environment. I was staunchly opposed. I cited reasons like, “I need to look my developers right in their eyes”, “they’re going to slack off at home”, and “you just can’t get good synergy when you’re a distributed team”.
I was dead wrong on all accounts.
Fast-forward to today, and it’s obvious that I am big supporter of working remotely. As founder and CEO of Spotlight Software, working remotely is the foundation of Spotlight’s value proposition. Not only am I a big supporter of the distributed model, but also recommend it to anyone that’s starting a new business.
My transformation from anti-remote to pro-remote happened slowly, and quite unexpectedly. It was for reasons I never expected. It was for reasons that make working remotely much more preferable both from an employee perspective as well as a business owner perspective.
Better Work Life Balance / Less Stress
This one caught me out of left field. I wholly expected my work-life balance, and that of my employees, to suffer when working from home. I mean after all, how can you separate work and life if you work from home?!? What I discovered was quite the opposite. My work-life balance got better, as work related stress actually decreased. I hear the same s thing from my team as well.
No one could really cite why work life balance improved, but I have my theories. It revolves around mindset. When you’re at work, that’s your mindset. You’re at work. When you’re home, that’s your mindset; you’re home. And when most employees are home, they block out work. But when your home is your work environment, all that seems to change. You’re actually able to have work and home life coexist in the some environment. As such, work related stress plummets, as you’re able to step in and out of the work mindset at will.
Of course, decreasing your commute from 5-10 hours per week to a few footfalls away always reduces traffic related stress.
So this one was a very pleasant surprise. Remember I argued that employees would slack off at home? Well, again I was wrong as I noticed that my employees and I were actually MORE productive at home then at the office. My theory here is goes back to the improved work-life balance. Since at-home workers can step out of their office at any time to eat lunch with their family, go to the dentist or just talk a quick jog to recharge their batteries, they feel less under-the-gun. As such, the remote worker feels more empowered and more in control of his own day. The result is more focus. Speaking from a personal perspective, when I know that I am not under-the-gun to get things done by 5:00… that I can go pick up my kids from school when they get out, I am more focused while I work because I am less stressed. More focus, of course, equates to more productive hours. Also, when an employee is less stressed, he has more of a willingness to put those extra hours in when needed without being prompted.
Greater Team Synergy / Better Collaboration
I thought that ditching the office meant a decrease in team synergy. Yet again, I was wrong. Synergy and even team bonding jumped. I think it’s because of self-empowerment. No longer is a PM standing over an employee as a task master, instead, the employee is empowered to carve out his own day and live up to their own responsibilities. As such, they don’t feel encumbered by an Orwellian overlord to take the time to chat with a fellow employee about a design pattern or ask for help testing or debugging. My distributed teams have forged a better bond thousands of miles apart, then a few feet away in an office.
Of course, there are other reasons to embrace the distributed environment, like:
Lower cost of overhead for employers (office, phone, electricity, etc.)
Lower cost of living for employees (tax write-offs, gas savings, etc.)
Wider talent pool
Potentially lower cost talent pool
“Greener” (no cars commuting)
So… the net net is that I am hooked on distributed development. So much so, I created an application that encapsulates the best of what I learned managing distributed teams. Spotlight is a communication and task management platform designed specifically for distributed teams. It enhances the best of a remote model, while filling in the gaps to bridge the remote world with the same experience as being in an office. We use Spotlight on a daily basis with dozens of clients who embrace the distributed workforce model.
Is your company using a distributed team environment or thinking about hiring online? Join us for our next webinar when we go into more detail on our distributed environment model and how we make it so effective.